When I first heard Virginian black/death metal dissidents Grethor, they were using The King in Yellow—the source material for True Detective season one’s central crime—as lyrical inspiration for their vicious Cloaked in Decay EP. At the time, I wrote “[vocalist Marcus] Lawrence spins tales…with feral fervor, launching from the whispers of a shadowy shaman to the shrieks of an unhinged conspiracy theorist.” A few years later, Grethor are back with their fiery first full-length, Damnatio Memoriae (out January 26th from VA label Edgewood Arsenal Records).
With a band name derived from the Klingon version of Hell, Grethor mixes the dizzying riffs of Gorguts and early Morbid Angel with the blackened discord of Deathspell Omega. But in “From This Rot So Shall We Be Remade,” their soundscape is even more vast and vile than their head-turning EP. Faster than you can say “Gre’thor will be paved with their ashes,” the song is ready to blast you into deep space at 3:25, then bury you beneath the shrapnel flung from Brian Frost and Tony Petrocelly’s guitar strings.
Read Grethor’s thoughts on Star Trek, Star Wars, and proto-fascism below. But first, stream “From This Rot So Shall We Be Remade” and get a taste of the blackened death that awaits in Grethor’s Damnatio Memoriae.
Grethor have released several EPs and compilations since you formed. How has your approach changed over the band’s decade-long existence?
Marcus Lawrence (vocals): [The changes] are mainly due to the influx of people [in the lineup]. Influences of musicians will vary, and reflect in the music they will contribute to. We began playing First Wave Black Metal (Venom, Bathory, Mercyful Fate, Hellhammer, etc.), and we then became more of a Melodic Black Metal band with [ex-guitarist] Bobby Lute’s songwriting style. As Anthony [Rouse, drummer] and the others came in, it took on the more Black Death style you hear now. It changes when there are different people are putting their take on it. It always does.
Anthony Rouse (drummer): Bobby [Lute, ex-guitarist] took a “less is more” approach to his songwriting style. He was quite good at creating songs with 3 or 4 riffs and structuring them so it flowed naturally. When I started getting deep into writing material for the band, I felt like I had a lot of ideas to convey, and I tried to follow Bobby’s ethos of how he developed song structures. Bobby’s era was more or less black metal with death metal influences, and our current era is kind of the opposite.
What’s the lyrical theme of “From This Rot So Shall We Be Remade,” and how does it relate to the album’s theme as a whole?
ML: It’s mainly about oligarchy. A small group of people controlling our day-to-day lives, and the corporate proliferation and appropriation of art. We are now seeing this in the current political climate, as the Republican Party has undergone a very, Star Wars-like transformation (best relatable analogy I have) into a completely proto-fascist, authoritarian party. They used to be much more subtle about it, but now there’s a naked contempt for the rest of us, and that proto-fascist party is willing to sacrifice our needs and basic rights to give the society over to their corporate masters entirely, through poorly-written legislation and propped up through propaganda. Art has always been a means to speak truth to power, and they will make sure we can’t access it easily, or control our means of communication or activism through the internet, so they will then make sure to control through economic means, as only, really, 20% of the population will be able to have reliable internet, and the rest will have to basically have nothing. Capitalism, in this country, (and in its current form) has become a sort of con game, and a means of power, and the illusion of freedom. It has been, arguably, since 1973, but I digress.
This is a theme that influences the one song, not a Noam Chomsky essay, I get it.
In Star Trek, Gre’thor is the Klingon name of for their version of a hellish underworld, which seems reminiscent of the River Styx. What about Gre’thor appealed to you or represents the band’s vision?
ML: It was mainly because we wanted something different from the usual themes synonymous with the genre. That’s not a knock on them, but we didn’t want to use the usual Tolkien or demonology themes. Plus Bobby and I loved Star Trek, and this seemed perfect. We just changed the spelling a bit to avoid potential legal trouble, but still kept it in tribute to Star Trek. The idealism of that universe is one we held dear, and do to this day, even though Bobby is no longer in the band.
AR: I have to confess that I grew up with Star Wars and not Star Trek, but since I joined the band years ago, I do have to say I find Klingon culture to be an interesting topic to explore with a metal band. When you think about it, Gre’thor is to Klingons what hell is for Christians. Here you have a fictional species where pride, tradition, and honor are internalized to their very core. Gre’thor is a place for Klingons who have lost their honor, it is literally the absence of what makes Klingons Klingons. I think the concept lends itself very well for a black/death metal band.
What does Grethor have planned for 2018 and beyond?
ML: That’s a good question, and one that I don’t have an immediate answer for. There are going to be lineup changes, and that will probably be more aggressively addressed in the coming year. When they’re up to speed we will play some shows, etc. Still, I do greatly appreciate the contributions everyone has made on this album, and I will miss having them when it is time to play the shows, as everyone who has been along for this ride has been appreciated. Still, I know I am not finished yet, and still have something to say.
Pre-order Grethor’s Damnatio Memoriae from Edgewood Arsenal Records HERE before its January 26th release date.